Nick Dal Santo
Nick Dal Santo

Widely respected for his maturity, passion and exceptional skills on the field, three-time AFL Grand Final player Nick Dal Santo is also quietly known off the field for a different set of skills—namely, driving, pitching and putting.

A friendly, honest and outgoing individual, the current North Melbourne Kangaroos midfielder loves his golf. Bitten by the ‘golf bug’ as a teenager, the Bendigo native is also a proud ambassador for Cobra Puma, sporting bright fluoro Puma boots on the oval, and the latest Cobra gear on the course.

Inside Golf sat down with Dal Santo to discuss his passion for the sport.

How did you get started in golf?

“I was always an active, outdoors kid; I played a lot of basketball, football, athletics. I never played Playstation or those sorts of things. My golf literally started with a 40- or 50-metre chip in the back yard with a sand wedge, from one of dad’s old sets.  Then I played cricket for one summer, and there was a lot of standing around, so I started playing golf on Saturday mornings.  I just loved it. I’d play out at Axedale Golf Course with some of the older guys each week. I loved the banter. They’d have a couple of beers afterwards and I’d have a soft drink with a dim sim.”

And you were hooked?

“I’d play every Saturday. I’d get mum to drop me off and pick me up and I remember, driving home, I’d take her through every single shot! I got addicted to the improvement and the constant drive of wanting to get better. I started in competitions about the age of 15, with a handicap of 36, and worked my way down to about 9 at the age of 16 or 17. Plus it was cheap. I think my membership as a junior was $50. Mum and Dad would buy it for me for Christmas.”

And your handicap now?

I think it’s about 5. I play at Woodlands, but it’s really difficult for me to get out these days, being a new father [Nick and his wife, Julie, have a 14-month-old son, Jude].

What excites you about golf today?

“Just the enjoyment and competitive edge of it. And with the handicapping system, it’s a level playing field—you can play against a scratch marker or a 36-handicapper and it’s a challenge to try and beat either of them on the day. It’s also a great release away from football.”

How does golf fit in with your busy AFL schedule?

We get one day off per week in the pre-season. Back at St Kilda, we often played on a Thursday, so on Wednesday afternoons we’d go around and see who wanted to play. We’d get around 12 to 16 of us turning up the next morning, ready to go. We’d set up our own little tournament, put a few bucks in and play a comp.  We were based out of Seaford, with so many good golf courses literally around the corner. During the season, sometimes we’d finish training, and everyone always had their golf clubs in the car—that was one of the rules: golf clubs, shoes and a polo shirt ready to go!”

Who were the golfers on the team?

“At St Kilda, Nick Riewoldt was a player. Sam Fisher is a fantastic golfer. Brendon Goddard, David Armitage, Brett Peake, Leigh Montagna, Lenny Hayes, Steven Baker, Stephen Milne.  At North Melbourne, Daniel Wells is a really good player. Scott Thompson, Aaron Mullett, Brad McKenzie. Ryan Bastinac, who’s now with Brisbane—he was a fanatical golfer.

Does golf help with your footy in any way?

One thing that helps a bit is that, with golf, you learn to put things behind you. In football, you’re out there for two hours, and you make mistakes all the time. You have to be resilient. On the golf course you hit numerous bad shots—on a single hole, let alone on an entire nine—and you just need to be able to reset and see if you can make something out of it.

You’re a current brand ambassador for Cobra Puma; tell us about your long history with the brand.

“I’ve been involved with Puma for 15 years now. I love the boots. They are the tool of our trade. Like a tradie loving their favourite hammer. My footwear is my job, and I have to have my footwear right.  And I love the people at Puma as well. They’ve been so generous and good to me.”

Plus you always get to use the very latest gear.

“I was laughing about this the other day; I’d got some new football boots. And I remember thinking that when I was a 17-year-old kid, if someone would have said to me you could have a free pair of Puma football boots, well, I would have happily said, ‘My life is done! I’m happy, I’m complete!’”

You’ve been involved with the Cobra golf side for a few years now. What’s impressed you with that?

I always knew there was a lot of technology involved with golf, but when I actually sat down with the Cobra boys and saw what goes into the golf clubs… the technical, the science, the strategy of developing something… I was enthralled. I love that aspect of it. How specific they are and detailed with everything. To go through the process of analysing your swing, the length of club, and the shaft and the size of the grip…it blew me away. It makes you feel like a professional. Even though I’m clearly not! I’m also a brand ambassador for Drummond Golf, and I am very thankful for their support.”

The Cobra Puma brand are known for their bold colours and attitude. Does that match your personality?

“Yeah, I think my personality is naturally a little more ‘out there’. I love the boldness of Cobra Puma. And I love the [Ambassador] personalities like Rickie Fowler, and Usain Bolt.  So I love how Puma go about that.”

 

You are one of the few players in history to compete in two grand finals in the same year (Dal Santo played for St Kilda during the famous 2010 “Grand Final Replay” vs Collingwood.). Can you explain what was going through your head when the siren sounded during the first (drawn) game?

“I still clearly remember it. It’s strange because I can’t remember anything from the three grand finals I’ve played. Don’t know why—it’s not a blur, but you’re just so engrossed…people say you’re in The Zone. But I clearly remember when that siren went. I was on the ground, I was on centre wing, there was a ball up, I think, and the ball was driven to the ground and I dove at it with a Collingwood player …and the siren goes.  And you have that split second where you go ‘just check the scoreboard to make sure the scores are level before you celebrate or look like a dill’. And then just that realisation of ‘what does that mean?…what do we do?’  There hadn’t been another drawn Grand Final since 1977—coincidentally with North Melbourne. So there was a shock of disappointment. And  a bit of confusion on the ground. And then we found out we had to come back next week.

“So then you have to switch on and prepare. But the Grand Final is a weird one because you know it’s your last game. It’s not a do-or-die one like in other finals games where you think ‘we could be here next week’ …this was it. Give it what you’ve got, and we’ll deal with it later. But then with a draw you have to do it all again. And then you think ‘how does it go with your body? Can I do it physically? Mentally?’ It’s a huge build-up again. And the anxiety and the pressure and scrutiny that comes over you for another week.  Which is all part of it, and you try and embrace it.

“But walking off that ground, I actually felt we were more of a chance in the replay against Collingwood than we were in the first one.  The reason I say that is because I felt Collingwood had a fantastic team and we had to play well to beat them, and I actually felt we got a little bit lucky in the drawn Grand Final in that I think Collingwood should have taken some better opportunities, and beat us.  So I thought ‘we’re a mature group here, we were in this situation last year (Grand Final), we’ve been here, done that. We’ll be able to bounce back and get them mentally in the second game. But that just wasn’t the case. We were beat up—had some guys physically that were struggling to get into the first one. Second one, a bit more so.  What Collingwood did to us in that second game, in my opinion, they probably should have done to us in the first game.  They were a better team on that particular day.”

 

What about the new rule change, playing extra time?

“I like it. As a player that’s been through it…a lot of people said that ‘you had momentum…and had it gone a little bit longer…[we may have won]’. But I prefer to get it done on that particular day. Everyone’s there, and want a result. We’re not soccer. We don’t play for a draw. Let’s get it done so everyone can go out on holidays.”

 

Speaking of holidays, how do you relax in the off season?

“I love to travel. I’ve been fortunate enough to do some really nice trips with the boys.  We went to Europe, America…on camps to South Africa. I’ve done most of the world which has been really good.  Then over the last four years [with wife Julie], we’ve done some similar trips…so I like to get out of Australia. It’s not because of the scruitiny—because in AFL circles that’s become a part of it, going overseas because nobody knows you—you can have a beer and no one’s watching you and questioning what you’re doing. It’s a bit more difficult to relax here post season.

“But my thing is that I just like travelling. Seeing other parts of the world, different cultures, sites, whatever it may be. The challenge now is with the little fella. It’s a different holiday when your child doesn’t sleep all night, then needs three sleeps during the day, and you’re struggling to get to the pool before he wakes up again, but I love it all the same.”

How have you taken to fatherhood?

“I love being a father. I always knew I wanted to have a family. There’s been nights when it’s been a challenge,   and they just take up your time, which is the way it is, but I still have that feeling when training finishes, I want to go home as quick as I can to see him. I love spending time with him, and I want to see him grow up. That’s how I want to spend my time at the moment.”

 

Finally, if you could say one thing to the golf gods…?

“I’d ask for a few more lucky bounces! My pet hate is when I hit the fairway and I land in a divot. I feel like it happens to me more often than other people! But I have a theory in life that if you continually put yourself in good positions enough times, then you’ll eventually get what you deserve…out of golf, football and life.”

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